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Lyndhurst wins NJSIAA cross country title again

CrossCountry_web

Golden Bears romp to 2nd straight North 2, Group I title

By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer

Before the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I sectional cross country championships last Saturday at Greystone Park in Morris Plains, Lyndhurst High School head coach Michael Picardo thought that the Golden Bears had a solid chance to not only do well, but to dominate.

“I didn’t want to sound cocky, but I thought if we all brought our ‘A’ game, we were going to crush it,” Picardo said. “We ran lights out.”

Led by senior Stephen Covello, who finished second overall in 17:11.08, the Golden Bears had a parade of runners cross the finish line in succession.

Covello was second, followed by teammate William Hooper, then Dylan Stanco and finally Andre Francisco. One right after the other, second, third, fourth and fifth. All four runners are seniors, wanting to make sure that their final season is certainly a memorable one.

The dominating performance enabled the Golden Bears to secure their second straight state sectional title, easily outdistancing runner-up New Providence by almost 30 points.

Picardo said that the team followed the lead of Covello, who was nothing short of brilliant.

“Stephen is the heart and soul of this team,” Picardo said. “We were without him last year (because of a bout with mononucleosis). For him to come back this year and run this well, it’s amazing. He’s the focal point of this team. He personifies what cross country is all about. He’s not the biggest guy in the world, but he’s all heart and that’s what we are.”

Covello said that he didn’t pay attention to Jordan Price of New Providence, who won the race.

“I wasn’t really concerned about him,” Covello said. “I just had to get out and finish strong. I felt really good, so I decided to go for it. I just ran with the pack and we all pushed each other. I knew I had this in me. I just had to show it.”

Hooper was next, crossing the finish line in 17:14.40.

“I think running together was definitely the key,” Hooper said. “Everyone just got out so fast and we just stayed there. We kept telling each other that we had to stay in the group. It just all fell in line.”

Stanco was next, posting a time of 17:15.57.

“I never saw us run like that before,” Stanco said. “Just being together like that was incredible. I think we all ran 10 times faster because we ran as a team. It definitely means more to do it as a team.”

Francisco followed in fifth, finishing in 17:20.74. That’s four runners, all classmates, all teammates, all friends, finishing in a state sectional, one after another, in a span of just nine seconds. That’s it – just nine ticks apart.

“I think it shows how much we’ve bonded,” Francisco said. “The hard work finally paid off. It’s a great feeling, because it’s the first time in Lyndhurst High School history that a team won back-to-back state sectional championships. This was the hardest race ever.”

It was a tough race, because early on, both Hooper and Francisco slipped in the Greystone mud and fell.

“It meant more that we got up and finished,” Francisco said. “I tried hard to catch back up again.”

“I had no idea that they fell,” Picardo said. “They’re all heart and guts. Absolutely, we’re a team, first and foremost. We have a great pack of runners who stay together. Today was the best race our program has ever run. They bust their tails together. They’re lunch pail kids. They work hard and go to work. And they’re champions.”

The Golden Bears also received solid efforts from sophomore Xavier Locke, who was ninth overall in 17:42.07, junior Isaiah Aviles, who was 11th overall in 17:49.95 and junior Anthony Dell Aquila, who was 12th overall in 18:01.87.

“When I said I knew, I did,” Picardo said. “I knew what they were capable of.” It meant that all seven of the Golden Bears’ runners finished among the top 12 overall. Yes, that’s domination.

The Golden Bears now move on to the overall Group I state championships at Holmdel Park in Holmdel Saturday after; “Let’s see what happens there,” Picardo said.

The Lyndhurst girls finished fourth in North 2, Group I, led by Lindsary Cirne, who was 15th , and Alexis Gerbasio, who was 16th overall.

Kearny’s Vega finishes NYC Marathon

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By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Jason Vega experienced a life-changing year in 2010.

“I wanted to do something different,” said the 49-year-old Kearny resident. “I felt like I was getting old. My father passed away in 2009. I wanted to do something that my kids would be proud of.”

So Vega, an avid musician and guitar player who was once in a rock band, decided to become a marathon runner. Yes, just like that.

“I did a little running when I was in high school (at Christ the King in Middle Village in Queens, N.Y.),” Vega said. “But I quit during my freshman year. I put it in my head that I wanted to run a marathon for my kids (Danielle and stepson Nick Martinez).”

And Vega didn’t want to run just any other marathon.

“If I was going to do it, I wanted to do it on the biggest stage, namely New York,” said Vega, who handles receiving at a local food distributor. “When my father passed away, that was it for me. I was a two-pack- a-week cigarette smoker. I drank beer. I had to do something.”

Vega’s wife, Diane, was more than supportive in his quest.

“But she knew that no way it would happen,” Vega said.

When Vega began to train regularly, he certainly had his obstacles.

“I was horrible,” Vega said. “My mind was saying that I could do it. But my body was saying, ‘Oh, no.’ The first couple of miles, it was embarrassing. I needed to do it the right way.”

So Vega found a marathon training regimen that sneaker magnate Nike initiated.

“I followed the letter of the law,” Vega said. “I did everything that the program told me to do. I learned about the proper shoes to wear. I learned about the tools I needed.”

After following the 28-week routine, Vega felt like he was ready. So he applied to run in the New York City Marathon, entering the lottery for possible entrants. It was a shot in the dark, but Vega had the goal in mind.

“I set a goal and I had to see it through,” Vega said. “It took a lot just to get me going.” Vega eventually got the determination and got the approval to run in the NYC Marathon in 2010.

“I read my magazines and other resources,” Vega said. “I found a better way of eating. I became a pescadorian (which means Vega only eats fish one day a week). I found a root-based diet. As a runner, I started to improve. It was nothing to be proud of and was definitely ugly, but I kept going. I actually started feeling a lot better.”

However, disaster struck. Three weeks before the race, Vega suffered a strained Achilles tendon.

“I was doing some training on River Road and I felt a sharp pain in my leg,” Vega said. “I was hobbled bad, but I was determined.”

With the help of Kearny chiropractor and therapist Jim San Fillippo, Vega nursed the injury. “

Jimmy took care of it,” Vega said. “I thought that was it. I thought I wasn’t going to be able to do it. But Jimmy got me to the starting line.”

Vega said that the experience of running in 2010 was motivation to do it again.

“It was amazing,” Vega said. “You couldn’t imagine the amount of emotion I felt, all the things that go through someone’s head. You see all the people in the streets. It’s unbelievable.”

Vega had a host of supporters behind him, a group that he called “Team Vega.”

“Halfway through the race, I was feeling good, but then I was overwhelmed with emotion,” Vega said. “There was a whole bunch of Kearny people cheering me on. They bounced around from mile to mile. I had a huge support team.”

At one point, Vega thought he was done.

“It was around the 22-mile mark and I thought I was going to quit,” Vega said. “I hit the wall hard. I was ready to tap out. But then I saw my wife and kids and said I can’t do it. I couldn’t let them down.”

Vega finished the 2010 race in four hours, 46 minutes and 22 seconds.

“I remember seeing the finish line ahead of me and got a little boost of energy,” Vega said. “I did it.”

Vega was hooked. He was a marathoner.

He ran the Philadelphia Marathon in 2011 and Chicago in 2012. He also competed in the New Jersey Marathon in Long Branch.

But the goal was to get back into the New York City Marathon, where it all began.

“Lady Liberty beat me up bad the first time I ran it,” Vega said. “It was like she took her torch and beat me over the head with it.”

Vega didn’t apply to run the NYC Marathon the last two years, feeling fortunate that he didn’t get in two years ago after Hurricane Sandy did its local damage.

But two weeks ago, Vega was intent on being an entrant in this year’s race.

“I got an e-mail telling me that I was in,” Vega said. “Then I saw that $263 was withdrawn from my savings.”

That’s the entrance fee for the NYC Marathon these days. It costs a pretty penny to run the streets of New York.

“I’m dedicated,” Vega said. “This time, I left nothing to chance. I had a debt to settle with the race. I was going to do it again.”

Vega said that he trained five days a week, running anywhere between 30 and 40 miles a week.

“This time, I was ready,” Vega said.

Vega completed the 26.2 miles in four hours, 24 minutes and 30 seconds.

“I was so pumped,” Vega said. “I really wanted to break four hours. That was the goal. Once I started to see that slip away, then I really wanted to leave it all on the course. My time was pretty good for someone my age.”

Vega now has another goal in mind – namely the Boston Marathon.

“My kids are blown away,” Vega said. “They’ve inspired me to do more. Danielle, my daughter, wants to run with me. I’ll wait for them to finish or they’ll wait for me. But I’m not going to let them beat me.”

Vega’s next marathon will be in Long Branch in April, 2015.

“The ultimate goal now is to get to Boston,” Vega said.

Needless to say, Vega’s life has been altered over the last four years.

“No way could I have predicted this,” Vega said. “Not even close. I had no idea where the journey was going to take me. But I’m here now and loving it.”

And Vega might get his band back together as well.

“That would be something else altogether,” Vega said.

Harrison’s Lakhrif scores goals in bunches

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By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

Over the years, the Harrison High School boys’ soccer program has been almost like the United Nations of high school sports.

The Blue Tide has featured players from practically all over the globe, especially those with South American heritage.

Last year, the team’s best player, All-State defender Modou Sowe, originated from Africa.

Now, this year’s premier goal scorer, Ali Lakhrif, comes from Morocco.

“He moved to Harrison in the middle of his sophomore year,” said veteran Harrison boys’ soccer coach Mike Rusek. “The season had already ended. I keep a soccer ball in my closet and I brought it out into the hallway to see if he could kick it around. I realized that Ali could speak four languages.”

But the one language that Lakhrif spoke the best was the universal tongue of soccer.

“When John (Rusek, Mike’s assistant coach and brother) and I first started out, Harrison was like the melting pot, because we got kids from all over the place. But Ali said he was from Morocco and that was a first for us.”

It didn’t take long for Mike Rusek to realize that Lakhrif was a special player.

“When the weather got nicer, Ali was taken to (the famed Harrison) Courts to play,” Rusek said. “After seeing him every day, I said to John, ‘I think we have a find here.’ I didn’t see him on the big field, but I saw that he had some good ball skills.”

When Lakhrif’s family moved to Harrison from Morocco, Ali had no idea of the town’s rich soccer background. But he soon found out.

“I came here and wanted to play soccer,” said Lakhrif, who speaks French, Spanish, Moroccan and English. “I wanted to do well wherever we came to, but when I found out about the soccer here, I was very happy about it.”

Lakhrif fit in well with the Blue Tide and scored 15 goals, including the lone goal against Kearny in the Hudson County Tournament semifinals.

“I thought that if I scored that many last year, I could get more this year,” Lakhrif said. But no one could have ever imagined the impact that Lakhrif would have this season with the Blue Tide.

After scoring three goals in the Blue Tide’s 11-0 win over Bloomfield Tech last Thursday in the first round of the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I state tournament, Lakhrif now has 33 goals, which ties the single season school record for goals. Leo Bodasian had 33 goals in 1973.

Imagine all the great players that have come through the storied Harrison program over the years. Lakhrif has now scored more goals in a season than all but one of them.

“We’ve had some kids get into the 20s and even 30s,” Rusek said. “That’s a special and Tony Dominguez had 30. Harrison is traditionally one of the better soccer programs. Ali has now tied the record. It’s incredible.”

For his efforts, Lakhrif has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.

“He’s just a very hard worker,” Rusek said of Lakhrif. “He does all the little drills to get better. Every time he steps onto the field, he’s giving 100%. It’s nice to see that hard work get rewarded. It’s like watching a young professional. He’s such a tough competitor. He has that drive that you don’t see often.”

Lakhrif is also a very unselfish player. He’s collected 19 assists as well this season.

“He’s a forward for us, but I think on the next level, he’ll wind up in the midfield,” Rusek said. “He’s a good student, so he’ll go on to college. He’s still looking at schools right now. Very quietly, he’s scored 33 goals. You don’t hear a lot about him.”

The Blue Tide scored 135 goals this season, the most in Rusek’s coaching career. A lot of that scoring production is because of the Moroccan import.

“I’m all for the team,” Lakhrif said. “It’s not just for me. I think I’ve been in the right place at the right time. I don’t know where I’ll end up, but I hope to go far in college. I got very lucky to come to Harrison.”

Needless to say, Rusek is pleased with Lakhrif’s production.

“I am pleasantly surprised with what he’s done,” Rusek said. “I was hoping that he could get 20 goals. Well, if we keep playing, he might get double that.”

The Blue Tide was set to face New Providence after press time Monday in the sectional semifinals.

“I’m more than happy with Ali’s production,” Rusek said. “I think we underplay just how talented of a player he really is.”

The record books at Harrison High School will now tell it all, because with one more goal, Ali Lakhrif becomes the all-time single season record holder. That’s a legacy to last forever.

Three local girls’ soccer teams move on

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By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

Three local girls’ high school soccer teams have all advanced to their respective NJSIAA state sectional playoff semifinals that were slated to be played after press time Monday.

The Kearny High School girls advanced to the North Jersey Section 1, Group IV sectional semifinals with a dominant 11-0 win over Bergen Tech last Friday. That win came on the heels of a 5-0 win over North Bergen in the first round.

In the win over Bergen Tech, Lily Durning erupted for four goals, her best performance to date. Barbara Paiva, who was named the Hudson County Interscholastic League Player of the Year earlier last week, had two goals and an amazing five assists. Breeana Costa had three goals and Amanda Eustice had two for the winners, who were slated to face Montclair Tuesday in the sectional semis.

Nutley advanced to the North 2, Group III semifinals with a 5-1 win over Woodbridge. In that game, Victoria Kealy had three goals, including her 76th career goal, becoming the all-time leading goal scorer in the history of the school. Samantha Chimento and Kaitlyn Salisbury each scored a goal and Zoe Steck had three assists.

The Maroon Raiders were slated to face nemesis West Morris in the sectional semifinals Tuesday. West Morris knocked Nutley out of the state playoffs a year ago, so revenge was certainly on the minds of the Maroon Raiders entering that showdown.

And Lyndhurst steamrolled its way into the North Jersey Section 2, Group I semifinals with an 8-0 victory over neighboring rival North Arlington. The Golden Bears won their first state playoff game over Weehawken by a 7-0 score.

In the win over North Arlington, Mia Luna had three goals and Giana DiTonto had two goals and two assists. The top-seeded Golden Bears were slated to face fifth seed Glen Ridge in the sectional semifinals Tuesday.

Needless to say, it has been an excellent season for the local girls’ soccer teams.

Voters: ‘Yes’ to KHS move

A school-related nonbinding public question took the spotlight last Tuesday in East Newark’s voting booths where residents were asked whether they’d prefer to send their children to Kearny High School instead of Harrison High School, where East Newark kids have gone for more than a century.

And the answer was overwhelmingly, “Yes.” A total of 157 residents (machine and absentees) preferred the Kearny High scenario while 52 wanted to stay with the existing arrangement.

The borough Board of Education is expected now to take the next step: forwarding a legal consultant’s feasibility study in support of the shift to the state Commissioner of Education for final review. East Newark Mayor Joseph Smith has pushed for the change for economic reasons, saying that higher tuition fees assessed by the Harrison school board are driving borough school taxes upwards.

East Newark’s municipal election was a quiet affair – in contrast to the bitterlyfought primary contest – with incumbent Borough Council members Hans Peter Lucas and Jeanne Zincavage reelected to 3-year terms and Kenneth Sheehan, who was appointed to the seat formerly held by Edward Serafin, who resigned, was elected to complete the balance of Serafin’s unexpired term.

Elsewhere, four members of the Kearny Town Council running on the Democratic slate were all voted into office in last Tuesday’s general election. They faced no opposition.

Incumbents Albino Cardoso, Eileen Eckel and Susan McCurrie retained their seats in the First, Third and Fourth Wards, respectively, while newcomer Jonathan Giordano took over for incumbent Laura Cifelli Pettigrew, who opted not to seek re-election.

All four candidates are aligned with Mayor Alberto Santos and the Kearny Regular Democratic Organization.

There was a bit more excitement in the Kearny Board of Education contest, which featured five candidates battling for three seats.

The victors were: newcomers James L. Hill, who led the way with 1,184 votes, and Mercedes Davidson, 1,126; and incumbent Sebastian Viscuso, 1,107. All three were running as a team. Incumbent John Plaugic Jr. polled 941 votes and challenger Oscar Omar Fernandez got 604. Incumbent John Leadbeater didn’t run.

In Belleville, a two-member “team” held sway in the Board of Education race as Patricia Dolan and Ralph Vellon – who were backed by the Voice of Teachers in Education, a political action committee for Belleville teachers – topped a field of five for the two seats available.

The vote, with absentees included, was as follows: Dolan, 2,067; Vellon, 1,759; Christine Lamparello, 1,345; Gabrielle Bennett, 741; and Erika Jacho, 295. Incumbent William Freda didn’t seek re-election and incumbent Joseph Longo resigned after he was elected to the Township Commission.

In Lyndhurst, three candidates running as the “Kids First for Lyndhurst team” won seats on the Board of Education, in the process knocking out two incumbents. James Vuono (1,899 votes, including absentees), Beverly Alberti (1,877) and board president Christopher Musto (1,449) outpaced incumbents Stephen Vendola (1,381) and Josephine Malaniak (1,084) and challenger Jeremy Guenter (443).

And in Nutley, incumbents Lisa Danchak-Martin, Salvatore Ferraro and Frederick Scalera were returned to their seats on the Board of Education with no opposition.

– Ron Leir 

Obituaries

Adela Asensi 

Adela Asensi died peacefully at home on Nov. 4.

Born in La Coruna, Spain, she lived in Kearny for the past 48 years.

Arrangements were by the Armitage Wiggins Funeral Home, 596 Belgrove Drive, Kearny. A funeral Mass was held at St. Stephen’s Church, followed by entombment in Holy Cross Cemetery.

Adela had been a factory worker for the Ladies Garment District in Newark. She was the sister of Maria Elena Camporeale and the late Olga Garcia, Macu Trueva, Isa Panetta, Jose Luis, Finita, Ceasar and Pastor Asensi.

Grace Ann Bioty 

Memorial visitation for Grace Ann Bioty was held Saturday, Nov. 8, at the Armitage Wiggins Funeral Home, 596 Belgrove Drive, Kearny. Grace is survived by her husband Stephen and her children James Bioty and Michelle Olawski as well as her grandchildren.

Dr. Charles R. Bridge 

Dr. Charles R. Bridge died peacefully, surrounded by his loving family, on Nov. 5. He was 70.

Born in Kearny, he moved to Manahawkin 10 years ago.

Arrangements were by the Armitage Wiggins Funeral Home, 596 Belgrove Drive, Kearny. A funeral service was held at the funeral home, followed by a private cremation.

Chuck was a beloved dentist in Kearny for many years and was an avid boater. He also served in the Air Force during Vietnam.

He is survived by his daughter Lisa Lipesky, twin brother David R. Bridge, his grandchildren Michael and Alyssa, his nephews and nieces David Bridge, Allison Bridge Clemens, Micki Bridge, Natalie and Kyleigh. He is also survived by his dear cousin Ruth Wiseman and devoted friend Evelyn Carson.

In lieu of flowers, kindly consider a donation to the American Cancer Society.

Margaret M. Calero 

Margaret M. Calero (nee O’Grady) died Nov. 2. She was 53.

Born in Newark, she lived in Kearny since 1986.

Arrangements are by the Armitage Wiggins Funeral Home, 596 Belgrove Drive, Kearny. A funeral Mass was held at St. Cecilia’s Church, followed by burial in Holy Cross Cemetery.

Margaret was a hairdresser at Velvet Salon in Lyndhurst.

She was the wife of Francell Calero, daughter of Joan and the late John O’Grady, mother of Marcus, Brittany, Danielle and Stephanie, and sister of Doreen Demerest, Joan Slozen, Bill Huetelle, Rosemary Kaufman, Patricia Madarro, Michael O’Grady and the late Steven and John O›Grady. Also surviving are her beloved aunt and uncle Maryann and Richard Kennel. She was also aunt to many nieces and nephews.

In lieu of flowers, kindly consider a donation to Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

William Henry 

William Henry passed away on Sept. 4 at Clara Maass Medical Center, Belleville.

Bill worked for Hudson County Parks and Recreation for nearly 30 years.

He leaves behind many loving family and friends.

Arrangements were under the direction of Mulligan Funeral Home, 331 Cleveland Ave., Harrison. His cremation was private and there were no other services. For information or to send condolences to the family go to: www.mulliganfh.com.

Dolores Hesketh 

Dolores Hesketh, 84, of Summerville, S.C., formerly a resident of Kearny, passed away on Oct. 14 at Summerville Medical Center with her family at her side.

Surviving is her husband of 65 years, Jack; her children, the Rev. John, Patricia (Isidro), Ed (Sheila), Lori (George) and Beth (Tony). She was predeceased by her daughter Kathy. She is also survived by 12 grandchildren, Laura, Tony, Erin, Megan, Danny, Devin, Colleen, Joey, Nikki, A.J., Erica and Danielle; one great-grandson Avery; brother-in-law Frank and sister-in-law Carol; brother Bill and sister-in-law Pam, many nieces and nephews and her dear friends in South Carolina.

Services were held at Simplicity Crematorium, Charleston, S.C. An amazing wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and friend, she was the best. She will be missed by all who had the pleasure to know her.

Alfred Joll 

Alfred Joll, of Kearny, died Nov. 3 at Hackensack Medical Center. He was 69.

Arrangements were by the Armitage and Wiggins Funeral Home, 596 Belgrove Drive, Kearny. A funeral Mass was held at Our Lady of Sorrows Church, followed by burial in Holy Cross Cemetery with his first wife Lorraine (nee Humanick).

Al was a heavy equipment operator for Roselli and had been a laborer in the town of Kearny. He was a 4th degree Knight of Columbus.

He is survived by his current wife Jacqueline and his children, Theresa Barron (David) and Michael Joll (Holly). He was the brother of Joseph, Frank, Fred, Linda, Geraldine, Emma, Anna and the late Robert. Also surviving are his grandchildren Cassandra Henriques and David Barron III.

Wellness events at Lyndhurst ShopRite

Throughout November (Diabetes Awareness Month), ShopRite of Lyndhurst, an Inserra Supermarkets store, will host a full roster of health and wellness programs, led by Julie Harrington, in-store registered dietitian.

All programs are free and open to the public and will be held at the store at 540 New York Ave. Unless otherwise noted, advance registration is not required.

• The Weekly Walking Club  continues on Thursdays, Nov. 13 and 20. This one-mile trek through the store begins at Dietitian’s Corner at 8 a.m. Membership cards and prizes are awarded to all participants.

• The CarePoint Health van  will offer free blood pressure and cholesterol screenings Thursday, Nov. 13, from noon to 4 p.m. No appointment necessary.

• On Diabetes Health Day,  Sunday, Nov. 16, free glucose testing and vascular screenings will be available from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. No appointment necessary. A Healthy Thanksgiving Cooking Class — explaining how to prep the turkey and stay guilt-free throughout the holiday season — is set for Thursday, Nov. 20, from 1 to 2 p.m.

• LiveRight with ShopRite  Kids’ Day Cooking Class, for ages 6 and up, teaches youngsters how to prepare a simple, healthy snack. It will be held Tuesday, Nov. 25, from 4 to 5 p.m. Space is limited, and preregistration is required.

• Stop by Dietitian’s Corner  all day Wednesday, Nov. 26, for last-minute tips on staying healthy through the holiday season.

ShopRite’s dietitians can serve as guest speakers/instructors at wellness events hosted by local organizations.

For more information or to pre-register for a program, contact Harrington at 201- 419-9154 or email Julie.harrington@  wakefern.com.

Then & Now

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Photo by Karen Zautyk Top: Town of Harrison

Above Photo by Karen Zautyk
Top: Town of Harrison

Our last ‘Then & Now’ featured a 1930 Harrison photo of N. 4th St. (now Frank E. Rodgers Blvd.) viewed from Harrison Ave. This is the same spot, as pictured in an antique postcard. The card is undated, but it obviously predates the 1930 scene by decades. Our guess is that it’s from the 1890s or early 1900s, which we surmise based on the clothing of the pedestrians, including a woman, just visible at far left, in a ground-sweeping dress and wide-brimmed hat. What we find  most intriguing is the emptiness. Where is everyone? There’s just a handful of people and no vehicles at all. Not a wagon, horse-drawn carriage or trolley in sight, although the tracks are evidence that trolleys do travel here. Was Harrison closed that day? 

We thought it might be difficult to stand in the street to take the ‘Now’ photo, considering how heavy traffic is these days. But . . . where  is everyone? 

– Karen Zautyk 

A harrowing history lesson

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By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 

BELLEVILLE – 

Erwin Ganz was only nine when he fled Germany in 1939, thereby escaping the Holocaust, but his memories of that terrifying time are still fresh. Ganz, who resettled in America, went to Weequahic High School in Newark and Seton Hall University for an accounting degree, shared those memories at an assembly program hosted by Belleville High School last Thursday.

Since retiring from The Ronson Corp. after a 60-year career in 2009, Ganz has visited more than 40 schools, colleges, churches and synagogues, to tell his story.

Young people, especially, he said, “need to know what happened during the Hitler regime because when I’m gone [along with other survivors], the only way to find out is from books.”

In February 1933, Ganz explained to the Belleville students, “Hitler came to power and blamed the Jews” for Germany’s economic ills: rampant inflation and high unemployment. When he was five, Ganz said, his father “lost his job as a bank executive in Frankfort because he was a Jew,” and the family moved 100 miles away to Berncastel- Kues where his grandmother owned a small department store and his dad worked there.

Famous for its vineyards and wine production and an ancient castle atop a hill, “it was like a fairy tale town,” Ganz said.

But below the surface lurked the political realities of the day: “There were no more than 30 Jewish families there and the local public school refused to enroll me because I was Jewish – there was rampant anti-Semitism.”

His parents found a Jewish school – 35 miles away in Willich – and Ganz and his brother commuted there and back by train. When they’d walk out of the train station, they’d be “harassed by the Hitler Youth who, on occasion, stole our books” as police stood by and “did nothing.”

Document/photo courtesy Erwin Ganz At l., Gestapo registry of Jewish families, including Ganz, which he acquired from a Nazi historian on a return visit to Germany 50 years later. At r., Ganz as a boy, sitting between his mother and brother.

Document/photo courtesy Erwin Ganz
At l., Gestapo registry of Jewish families, including Ganz, which he acquired from a Nazi historian on a return visit to Germany 50 years later. At r., Ganz as a boy, sitting between his mother and brother.

 

It was during this period, he said, that “Jewish men were taken from their homes and beaten on the streets” and the German state secret police, known as the Gestapo, placed signs on Jewish-owned businesses, reading: “Do Not Buy From Jews.”

One morning in March 1938, Ganz recalls being told by his mother that, “my dad left in the middle of the night to escape the Nazis who were looking for him.” He later learned that an American relative had agreed to “sponsor” his dad’s admission to the U.S. by placing money in an escrow account. Armed with that information, Ganz’s father managed to scrape up enough money for a passage to the U.S.

Only after he had set sail did word arrive in Germany that the aged relative had died. But a Jewish aid society arranged for shelter and work for Ganz’s dad in the U.S.

Back in Germany, meanwhile, Ganz recalled returning home from school on Nov. 9, 1938, on an “overcast and gray” day and was surprised to see his mother waiting for him at the station.

“She was holding a banana, which was considered a delicacy in Germany then, and she gave it to me as a distraction from the terrible sight I saw when we got home – windows broken, glass all over the street and front yard – and inside the house, the Nazis had ripped frames, destroyed pictures, slashed sofas and chairs. There were hatchet marks on the door frames. In an upstairs bedroom, coal-fired stoves had been ripped from their foundations and thrown on the beds.”

Similar signs of destruction at Jewish homes and businesses – including Ganz’s grandmother’s store – were everywhere, he said. It came to be known as Kristallnacht – the Night of Broken Glass – when, around Germany, paramilitary units looted several thousand Jewish-owned shops, burned hundreds of synagogues and began roundups of Jews bound for Nazi concentration camps.

At his grandmother’s store, Ganz said that many of the Nazi Youth involved in laying waste to the business “were children of customers who shopped there,” but their parents were reluctant to stop them “because they were afraid they’d be turned in to the Gestapo by their children.”

Photo by Ron Leir Belleville students presented a pair of sneakers as a gift to Ganz, who walks a mile and a half every morning.

Photo by Ron Leir
Belleville students presented a pair of
sneakers as a gift to Ganz, who walks
a mile and a half every morning.

 

The Gestapo came to Ganz’s house “to take my father away,” Ganz said, but, luckily, he’d already fled to the U.S.

Conditions continued to worsen: From a tavern next door to the Ganzs’ house, “every night, we could hear the Nazis singing about killing Jews,” he said. The Jewish school in Willich “was destroyed.” The Nazis confiscated jewelry held by Jews who, by then, feared leaving their homes.

Things got so bad, said Ganz, that “our devoted housekeeper, who was Catholic, brought us food in the middle of the night.”

In April 1939, Ganz, his brother and mother left for the U.S. aboard the ship, the Franklin D. Roosevelt, and in 1940, his grandmother followed. “She got out on the last boat that left Germany,” he said.

When he made his first return visit to Germany in 1974, Ganz visited his old home in Berncastel-Kues and the new owner – after being assured that Ganz wasn’t going to try and reclaim the property – showed him around. “I could still see the hatchet indentations made by the Nazis in 1938,” he said.

On the site of his grandmother’s store was a tavern; the town’s synagogue had been converted to a machine shop – “but,” Ganz said, “you could still see the Star of David on top” – and, in Willich, the synagogue “was still standing” but a sign outside said it was a “Jewish Museum.”

The attendant gave Ganz a tour of the building and spoke about the onetime Jewish presence “as if it was something that happened a long time ago.”

“I would never live in Germany again,” Ganz told the students. “America is the best country in the world. America saved my life and my parents’ lives and I would do anything for it.”

Fire OT prompts hirings

By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 

KEARNY – 

After meeting in closed caucus for about an hour last Wednesday, Kearny’s governing body came out with what Mayor Alberto Santos later characterized as a commitment to hire 12 additional firefighters … if the town’s state fiscal monitor goes along.

And town officials are pledged to do that, Santos said, even if Kearny fails to secure outside funding sources – in particular, the federal SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response) grant – to help subsidize the cost.

In the recent past, the town has been hesitant to hire any new uniformed employees without that outside cash, insisting that it has been operating under severe budgetary restraints.

But now, Santos said, the Fire Department roster has dipped to the degree that overtime expenses to cover for ailing or injured firefighters and fire superiors have climbed to alarming levels, to the point where the town has essentially no choice but to replenish the ranks.

“We’re going to hit close to $1 million in Fire Department overtime – for both the rank and file and for officers – for the year,” the mayor said, “and we have a recommendation from both the fire chief and CFO that if we hire 12 additional firefighters, we will actually see a savings with a big reduction in overtime.”

With the new personnel, Santos said, each of the department’s four shifts can be supplemented by three firefighters, thereby expanding coverage and more bodies available to fill gaps when needed.

Implementing the new hires, according to Santos, would mean an investment of approximately $600,000 – calculated on the basis of about $30,000 in salary plus an average of $20,000 in health benefits per firefighter per year.

But Santos said that some of that cost would be offset by retirements of veteran uniformed employees anticipated in both the Police and Fire Departments during the next couple of years.

As part of the plan, the mayor said the town would “implement monthly overtime reporting to track projected savings in overtime.”

If, for whatever reason, however, the plan doesn’t produce those savings, Santos said the town may have to close another fire company, as it did a few years ago.

Asked if the town would consider – as a possible savings strategy – renegotiating firefighters’ work schedule, Santos said that wouldn’t happen because the issue was previously arbitrated in the unions’ favor.

At any rate, assuming the state monitor signs off on the plan for extra hirings, Santos said the next step would be for the town to ask the state Civil Service Commission to certify a new firefighter appointment list.

Reached this week, Fire Chief Steve Dyl said: “Yes, we looked at our overtime for 2013 and 2014 and we figured that if we put a few more [firefighters] on, we’d have better balance and put a dent in the O.T.”

Dyl said he’s still facing a falloff in personnel, having lost three firefighters this year through retirement. “If we get the 12 [new appointees], that will put me at 56 – and, with superiors, it will come to 96 total,” he said. That will still fall short of the 102 total called for under the department’s T.O.

“We’ll try to get the new people into the training academy by March [2015] so we have them on the streets before July 1,” Dyl said.

Meanwhile, Santos said the town is also planning to hire more police officers to strengthen thinned ranks. To that end, he said that Civil Service has asked the Police Department to verify residencies of the people on the current appointment list. He declined to say how many cops might be hired.

The mayor and council have also agreed to go along with Public Works Superintendent Gerry Kerr’s recommendation to hire three “seasonal” workers for six months of the year. The monitor has consented to this proposal, Santos said.

A request from the Health Department for a replacement senior citizen bus driver has yet to be discussed, the mayor said.